The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Arizona Lawmaker’s Call for Constitutional Sheriffs Has Radical Roots

By David Neiwert on October 10, 2013 - 12:41 pm, Posted in Antigovernment, Extremist Propaganda, Patriot

An Arizona legislator recently made headlines by comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler as she decried the closures of national parks within her district, part of the ongoing federal shutdown. She posted the following on her Facebook page:


Barton later defended the Obama-Hitler comparison, telling the Arizona Capitol Times that she believes the president is “dictating beyond his authority,” citing gun-control legislation and Obamacare as examples: “It’s not just the death camps. [Hitler] started in the communities, with national health care and gun control. You better read your history. Germany started with national health care and gun control before any of that other stuff happened. And Hitler was elected by a majority of people,” she said.

But while the inapt comparison may seem outrageous (the claim about gun control under the Nazis, for one, is entirely bogus), Barton’s plea to call out “Constitutional Sheriffs” to nullify the authority of federal park rangers is even more interesting, and certainly more revealing.

Those “Constitutional Sheriffs” that she hopes can “revoke” the power of federal authorities are actually participants in a far-right antigovernment “Patriot” movement effort — descended from old Posse Comitatus teachings — to enlist the sheriffs of America in the belief that individual county sheriffs are the highest law of the land and possess the power to nullify and even arrest federal authorities.

One of the leaders of the “Constitutional Sheriffs” campaign is longtime Patriot movement figure Richard Mack (who counts Safford, Ariz. — Rep. Barton’s home — as his own childhood hometown). His efforts to enlist law-enforcement officers in the conspiracist worldview of the Patriots and militias dates back to the 1990s, but is also credited with helping to spur the movement’s recent resurgence. In addition to his own Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, Mack is also prominent in the Oath Keepers movement.

Rep. Barton also has a history of far-right activism. Her page at the website of the Arizona House of Representatives trumpets her mid-1990s activism in the so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” — an antigovernment land-rights movement popular in the West in the 1980s and ’90s — and says she was “an elected officer in People for the West, a land-rights group.” This latter organization was a major player in the so-called “Wise Use” movement, which in the 1990s became a fertile recruitment ground for the Patriot movement and efforts to organize militias.

The notion of the supremacy of the local sheriff originated with the Posse Comitatus movement, a radical anti-Semitic organization, fueled by conspiracy theories and race hatred, that sought to dismantle the federal government and its civil-rights institutions. The Posse laid the groundwork for various Patriot-movement organizations in the 1990s, including the Montana Freemen and Richard Mack’s own early organizations.

Rep. Barton so far has not responded to the SPLC’s queries regarding her promotion of the “Constitutional Sheriffs” and its Patriot movement agenda.

  • Maria

    Hmmmm, this radical movement sounds radical only if your’e a progressive. These ‘radicals’ are people with honorable, old fashioned values. They are ‘pull yourself up by your boot strap’ people. They would rather die than take money from your hard earned dollars. This is a foreign concept to the ‘communist manifesto’ of a progressive. Just sayin….

    Disclaimer: We don’t take government money, we pay our taxes, paid off our mortgage, taught our children on our dollar at home, have them in a private university (paid for by scholarships and savings), we won’t receive the social security we’ve paid into. My husband and I will be working until we die. No we don’t earn alot. We give back to community by mentoring foster children, feeding the homeless and more.

  • aadila

    Actually, Joe, I think it is technically impossible to be a “patriot” and adhere to the radical neo-Jeffersonian view of independent states in a republic. Being a patriot implies have a patria, i.e., a country which unifies the states and binds them.

  • supersonic250

    Joe: Except all these “patriots” were nowhere to be seen before a black man was elected President. Nice try, but it’s ALL about hatred.

  • Joe

    Please stop equating being a Patriot with being a member of a hate group. There is no hate involved in being patriotic and/or believing in the Constitution as the law of the land and expecting the government to run under the provisions of the Constitution and not make their own rules. Remember the government is meant to be, Of the People, For the People and By the People, not some politicians own agenda. It is in my mind a level of treason to be against the Constitution and to support all aspects of the Government blindly. We have seen over and over again the Government is nothing more than a bunch of crooked politicians out for only themselves.

  • TheSapient1

    So, I take it she wasn’t a history major. Hitler’s career as a dictator actually started as a crazy racist ranting on the street corner, and plotting revolutions from bars. Most Germans at the time, and the German media, dismissed him as just that, until his parted got just enough votes to make it into the legislature. He then became Leader by “saving” the country from a “communist revolution”. Also, the German national health system was put in place by Otto von Bismarck with the Health Insurance Bill of 1883, 6 years before Adolf was born. My first college history professor claimed that the reason we learn history is so that we understand humans suck, its no one’s fault, and any one who says all the problems of our world are caused by [person/group of people] was either lying or an idiot. I wonder which one Ms. Barton is?

  • aadila

    There are so many things off kilter about comparing the President to Hitler that it hardly is worth addressing, in my opinion.

    But the clearest and most compelling thing, from my perspective, is that Hitler was all about reifying an enemy to mobilize loyalty, a sense of purpose, and passion for extreme politics.

    If you look back at Obama’s tenure in the White House, there were many, many missed opportunities to do this. This is what Bush did, and what Republicans do continuously, but of all my various grievances with Obama, he has never played the fear card, even avoiding — to his credit — brinksmanship with Iran and Syria, while keeping the lines of diplomacy open.

    So for them to make the comparison to Hitler is not only predictable and a demonstration of abject ignorance and stupidity, if I may speak plainly, it is ironic because they are borrowing from Hitler’s political strategy book.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Obama has not implemented national healthcare, something that countless industrialized nations have without having death camps. Call me crazy but I think the death camps had a lot more to do with Hitler’s raging anti-Semitism and racial beliefs, which incidentally have nothing to do with public healthcare.

    Also Hitler was not elected by a majority and the German electoral system was and still is completely different from that of the US.

    These are the people the public trusts with their state. These are the people telling us to “read history.”

  • Andrew

    In my state, Nebraska, the county sheriff is not the highest law enforcement officer in the county. The county attorney is the highest law enforcement officer in the county.

  • Andrew

    Where do these individuals get this idea that a county sheriff can somehow step in and stop other law enforcement agencies from performing their duties? That’s crazy. If a sheriff tried to stop, lets say the FBI, from serving a warrant or making an arrest, that sheriff would be arrested and charged. This Barton is nuts.

  • Larry

    The District of Columbia is the one place in America where the County Sheriff is NOT the highest law enforcement officer. This person clearly doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

  • Gregory

    “Arizona state Rep. Brenda Barton (R) issued a statement on Wednesday denying that a recent Facebook post in which she described President Obama as “de Fuhrer” was a reference to Adolf Hitler.

    Barton initially stood by the post she wrote Monday in which she misspelled the German phrase most commonly associated with Adolf Hitler. However, on Wednesday, Barton issued a statement in order to “clarify that I never used the word or said that President Obama was ‘Hitler.'”

    Stupid, crazy and dishonest. I can only imagine her social circle or the kind of mouthbreathers that make up her constituency.